I have lived through other events that when viewed on television take on this universal nature, making me weary of quick judgments and tempering the seemingly natural tendency to universalize what I am seeing as though this particular event is true of an entire geographical area or people.
The recent events of the past few days are an example. The United States bombed several targets that it claimed were a terrorist hideout and chemical production plant. It was only a matter of a few moments until I heard someone claiming that Islam was some how to blame.
It is not. I lived in Turkey for one year of my life and was surrounded by people who practiced Islam; most of them were remarkable for their hospitality and generosity. I was a total stranger to both the religion and culture but I was always made to feel a part of any group that I came into contact with, and they respected me for who I was. I was a member of the United States military at the time and five of the people that I was stationed with were killed by terrorists during that one-year. But extremists killed them, not the entire Islamic culture. Everyone that I came into contact on the subsequent days after these attacks expressed great remorse and sorrow for what had happened to my friends.
Extremist exist in every culture including are own. I know that I must resist universalizing the behavior of one individual to the entire group. I have tried hard to do that and continue that labor.
When I read this passage from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I imagine the devil riding late into the evening and passing by various establishments (souls) and inquiring within if there is any vacancy for the night. The imagery may be silly, but it points to a reality that the things that fester in our unconsciousness while we sleep take root and make themselves at home there, thereby deserving the demonic nomenclature.
Once a slight from the previous day, or perhaps a past hurt take root in my consciousness they put a drag on my life. They color my preconceptions with a dark hue and it is only a matter of time before the overall quality of my life is lessened.
Something which in and of itself might have been a small matter at one time now becomes something quite large.
What can we do to make sure there is a no vacancy sign dangling from our consciousness at the end of the day?
A simple inventory of the day called an examination of conscience or consciousness has been suggested by many spiritual writers. But what do you do when there is something that really has bothered you, that won't go away? You are very aware of it, but are afraid to let go of it?
I realize there are two kinds of hurts, the ones that really demand action and those that are not real. The ones that demand action need to be dealt with not brushed away, but what about the other more common ones?
I had a problem once with a particular person and a friend asked me why I was letting the person have power over me?
His question made me angry. But after reflection I realized that the person who was bothering me was controlling me, because I was allowing them to continue to influence me long after they were in my presence. Once I realized that, the desire to be freed took control and the thoughts that had once seemed to dominate my thinking vanished.
Do not let other people's actions control you. You are free! As an old Merle Haggard song says, "They can chain my body, but not my mind. So I'll break out again tonight."
Tonight let go, drive out the unwanted guests and hang out the no vacancy sign.
But think for a moment of the alternative, if we return the hatred and abuse of others, we become just like them. We become the enemy, we become the abuser.
To put it in a selfish way, it's in our own best interest to be different than our enemies, to not be like those who abuse us.
Jesus passive teaching was embraced by both Gandhi and later by Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement in this country. They realized there is a freedom by not acting as others expect you to act, that it disarms them!
But it would be naive to think that there is not a price to pay, after all Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were all murdered. But they made a huge difference.
We can to. We may not be called to make the ultimate sacrifice as they were, but we certainly learn from their greatness, by simply being proactive instead or reacting. Do not concern yourself who your enemy or abuser is, concern yourself with who you are!
They speak of passion, and are followed by promises of division. Yet how distant they are from the usual picture of Jesus as someone who doesn't stir things up--in this passage he promises just the opposite.
In fact anyone who takes the time to read the gospels will encounter a Jesus quite unlike the Christ on a stained glass window. Jesus is complex. He brings peace and forgiveness to those who are agitated and lost, but he brings discomfort to those who are content with their position in life.
Jesus wished his followers to be full of life! They were to be moved with a firm goal in sight. They were to be light bearers and fire setters. The fire is a love which drives out evil and selfishness and helps us to die to ourselves.
When Paul spoke to the Galacians, he used the imagery of running to talk about their daily actions. Anyone who runs or jogs knows the discipline and focus that it requires. Keeping our eyes on our goals in life requires the same kind of discipline and focus.
The question arises what is it that we are running after? The ancient Philosophers concluded that it was happiness (the meaning of which the Philosophers did not agree upon.)
What will truly make us happy? Is it that pursuit that will make me happy right now, or happy in the long run?
Freud concluded that human maturity was reached when a person could delay gratification for a higher good. Forgoing the temporary pleasure for the sake of the greater pleasure seems to hold the best chance for lasting happiness.
What hinders us from following the truth? Try to run by it today, you may find that the truth will make you happier in the long run.
In the course of the past few days the news has been dominated with accounts of President Clinton huddled with his law team deciding what his testimony will be today before the Grand Jury. Today he will testify.
Along with these news reports, opinion polls have been presented which suggest that the majority of Americans believe that the president has lied, but that the majority do not care.
For four years I taught Ethics at a Catholic high school. The students often thought I was overblowing the whole ethics thing, they would argue that their parents didn't care if they had sex, drank or cheated (after all everyone cheated!). I would waste a significant amount of time arguing that their parents did not hold such views, but obviously they were telling the truth.
I am very happy as the school year starts today in Florida, that I am not teaching.
That being said, I am aware that I will be teaching anyone that I come into contact with, and the awareness comes from my former students. I offer these words of Jesus for your reflection:
"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
What optometrist can we visit who can perform an eye test so that we can avoid be filled with darkness?
I have met people throughout my life, people who after experiencing a conversion will claim that through most of their previous life they were living in darkness, that they did not see things clearly. The same is true for me.
But how can we make sure that the same is not true right now, that I my eye is not sound on this day?
St. Paul says that we have to put on the "mind of Christ."
There is a popular slogan that has been marketed on almost everything imaginable as WWJD, "What would Jesus do?"
I remember asking a person who came to me for counsel once just that question, what would Jesus do in your situation? Their response, "I don't know, but he was the son of God and I'm not."
Yes you are a son or daughter of God, and what Jesus would do is what you will do if your eye is sound!